Tweets ranging from poison-tipped arrows to blown kisses are routinely fired at the CTA by commuters clutching smartphones.
They do not flame out silently in the online atmosphere.
They drain into an electronic funnel with all other CTA-related thoughts and questions and blink onto the computer screen of Tony Coppoletta, the transit agency’s man behind the Twitter curtain.
The harsher variety are as creative and stinging — “If you were a person you’d be unemployed and friendless because you’re unreliable and you smell bad” — as they are blunt — “You can always rely on the CTA to make you late for an opening shift. F – – – you buses.”
Click refresh and up could pop:
There’s a guy on the train singing about chicken noodle soup lmfao my CTA driver just used alliteration and told us all to have a Sensational Saturday. That almost made waking up at 5 meaningful
“You are getting these little, tiny bits of information from all over the place,” Coppoletta said. “And sometimes you can’t help but visualize them in your head as these little points on the map, and it does sometimes feel like you’re getting the heartbeat of the city through a feed like this.”
Much of the chatter focuses on the transit agency’s faults. “It’s an axiom of the customer service industry,” said Graham Garfield, one of Coppoletta’s colleagues who also keeps tabs on the account.
Coppoletta, 35, can empathize. He knows the smells. The delays. The bizarre behavior of fellow riders. Buses and trains shuttled him around the Southwest Side as a kid. He rode the bus to Curie High School and takes the train to work.
“I rode the Orange Line on the second day it was open to help my mom, who is legally blind, find her way to work on the exciting new train line that suddenly came to be,” he said. “I’d never been on an L train before that day and, our neighborhood being served only by buses, found myself instantly enamored by it and have long felt that having a good transit system is an important part of Chicago’s quality of life.”
A total of four people have access to the Twitter account, but Coppoletta, who has a background in the tech industry, is the primary overseer of @CTA, which has acquired nearly 51,000 followers since its creation in November 2011.
“Probably the last thing I do before I go to sleep every night is just check in and see what people are saying, and it’s the first thing I do when I roll out of bed every morning,” said Coppoletta, who lives in the West Town neighborhood. “And I’ve probably woken up once or twice and just thought, ‘I should look in right now and see what’s happening.’”
If Coppoletta has the chance to answer commuter questions between posting service updates, he will. His replies catch some people off guard because, “I think that a lot of people don’t realize that someone is actually reading everything.”
He’s also looking for information he can pass on to the folks who deploy workers to address issues as small as unidentified crud on train seats.
With 1.7 million rides taken during an average week, the account is like a constantly erupting volcano.
“Sometimes it can be just utterly surreal,” said Coppoletta, 35, who also maintains the CTA website.
It only takes a few minutes of mining the Twitter to see what he’s talking about:
Loyola platform: pregnancy test on the tracks. Results too sun-bleached to read If I die on this train, go ahead and immediately arrest the guy next to me. #CTA #Brownline I am on the CTA sitting next to a tiny bear – I love Halloween